My Biggest Breakthrough

“Take me from where I’ve been into something new.

I’m giving up control.

I need a breakthrough.”

This chorus from the song by Chris McClarney kept playing through my mind, over and over.  Pretty soon I was singing the song to God as I was getting ready in my hotel room. I was preparing for the second day of my amazing, miracle trip to Texas.  A few months earlier my daughter Areli had invited me to the YWAM base in Tyler, TX to attend her graduation ceremony. She was graduating from the Discipleship Training School, the same school I had graduated from 25 years earlier.

My first reaction to her invitation was to laugh!  How could I leave my family and spend the money for plane tickets to travel to Texas for a weekend?  It just wasn’t economical or logical.  Yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea.  I would need to take Aria who was still nursing and too little to be without her mama.  I would need to find someone to provide personal care for my special needs teenager before school and before bedtime each day.  I would need to make sure the rest of the children were taken care of and make sure they had meals to eat. I would need to find an amazing deal on a plane ticket.  God would need to provide a miracle of extra money! 

I didn’t say anything to Chris at first because I thought he would shoot me down.  He works long hours and I hated to ask him to handle things at home while I was gone.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about this trip!

When I told Chris about it the following day, he was more excited about the opportunity than I was!

“You should go!  It would be so special for you to return to your alma mater!  I think you should go,” he said.

I was so surprised!  What an amazing husband I have! I started praying that God would put all the pieces together.  Areli started praying.  Areli’s friends and leaders started praying. Within a month and a half God had worked it all out.  Aria and I were going to fly to Texas on Thursday and return home on Sunday.  We were even able to change Areli’s return flight home to be the same as ours.

I was astounded that God would do this for me!  I had never traveled without Chris since we had gotten married.  I also had never traveled with a baby by myself before.  I was nervous but so excited! I felt that God wanted to speak to me on this trip. I got some friends to pray for me, that God would encounter me and Aria and Areli.

Now it was Friday, and I was in Texas.  The two flights the day before had gone better than I had expected.  Aria was much easier than I had hoped for!  I had gotten a bigger and better hotel room than I was supposed to have. The weather was gorgeous! I was meeting such wonderful people.

“Take me from where I’ve been into something new.

I’m giving up control.

I need a breakthrough.”

I continued to sing this chorus.  I was trying to worship God while I prepared myself and Aria to attend the base worship service that morning.  I was feeling so thankful and so happy, yet I became aware of another nagging feeling.  What was it exactly? Guilt? Anxiety?

I realized that I wanted to do everything right on this trip, to make the most of this short time.  I really wanted to be an encouragement to every person I met and to share with the students my perspective of the school 25 years later.  I didn’t feel like I had done that at all. 

I was about to walk out the door to head to the Paris Fellowship Center for worship when I heard God say, “You don’t HAVE to do ANYTHING. Just rest and enjoy.”

It was startling how those simple words changed my outlook.  All of a sudden I felt at peace and ready to enjoy my vacation.

The worship was so simple. Just two women singing, one of whom was playing a guitar.  The spirit was sweet and I felt God’s presence.  I was also aware of a familiar feeling.  The sensation I used to have when I attended base worship 25 years ago.  A self-consciousness that wondered how others would judge me when they saw me.  Was I being too demonstrative in worship? Was I being too reserved? Did I look like a tired, out of shape, middle aged mom? Or maybe someone would think I looked young enough to be Areli’s sister? These thoughts caused a low-grade stress that was so distracting yet so normal.  I thought I had left this type of insecurity behind years ago, but it was still with me.

I just wanted to worship God with my whole heart, without thinking about myself.  All of a sudden I felt as though the space above me opened and I could feel the love of God pouring over me without blockages, without filters.  I had never before felt His love this strongly, this purely.

“You could do everything wrong for the rest of your life and my love for you wouldn’t change. I created you because it made me happy.  I delight in you!”

I felt free of stress, worry, and all pressure to perform. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders that I never knew was there.  For the first time in my life, I felt fully FREE, fully LOVED!!

This was the answer to ALL my problems!  This was what I had always strived to achieve but never knew I already had!!  It was hard for me to believe because it went against my ingrained thought patterns. 

I felt the open heaven close slightly. 

“Oh no!  God, help me to hold on to this! Don’t let me lose this awareness of your love!” I prayed as worship came to a close.

I still felt His love more than I ever had. I remained peaceful in the freedom He had just given me.  I enjoyed the rest of the trip in the afterglow of this experience.  There were certain things I knew were true about me.

I was a dream in God’s heart before He made the world. (Eph 1:4, Rom 8:29)

He brought me into this life because He wanted me. I made Him so happy! (James 1:19)

I brought Him delight before I knew right from wrong, before I ever tried to please Him.

Jesus died for me.  He won the victory for me. He won every victory. It is already done! (1 Cor 15:57, John 19:30)

The redemption of God is stronger and bigger than me.  Bigger than anyone.  Bigger than the world and bigger than the devil.  Bigger than my mistakes. (Is 65:17-25, Col 1:20)

I will spend eternity with God in joy and joy and more joy.(PS 16:11)

I can rejoice now! (Phil 4:4)

I don’t need to worry about anything, ever!  (1 Peter 5:7)

His love is unwavering. (Jer 31:3)

I knew that believing all these truths was the key to actually being able to accomplish my purpose on this earth and love others.  I could never do it by trying hard. The work of God is this, to BELIEVE! (John 6:29)

While I was in Texas this seemed easy to believe. 

“God has answered my prayers and has given me my biggest breakthrough!  To simply live in His love!” I thought.  I was excited to return home and live in this revelation that I had known before in my head but now understood in my spirit. Living in His unconditional acceptance would finally slay the fear of man and insecurity that had always been my close companions.

However, you can’t live on the mountaintop forever.  Eventually you have to keep going and encounter a valley.  And with any new revelation there is always a test.  Why do I forget that there is always a test? 

Heaven and hell both press in to demand an answer to this question, “Do you truly believe what God has just told you?”

I wish I could say that I passed the test, but that was not the case.  I found that my biggest breakthrough could also lead to the darkest valley I had yet encountered…

To be continued…

Oh Nards!

You know when something unexpectedly horrible happens and your immediate response is to let out a loud expletive?  Well, mine is, “Holy CRAP!”

I don’t mean to say it.  It just comes out.  My teenage son is quite offended by it and constantly reminds me that, “crap is NOT holy, Mom!”  I heard Bill Johnson say that if we really understood the holiness of God, we would never pair the word “holy” with the word, “crap.”

My young children sometimes exclaim, “Holy Crap!” when they are upset about something, and I admit that it sounds very uncouth and disrespectful…and they learned it from listening to me!

Ok, point taken!  This is not what should be slipping out of my mouth at inopportune times.  I should have better sentiments in my heart to express.

That same teenage son began to say, “Oh nards!” He would say it very loudly with a smile on his face because it is such a humorous phrase.

I adopted “nards!” as my “swear” word of choice.  Whenever something annoying or dreadful happened, I would exclaim, “OH NARDS!”  It was so fun to say and so funny to hear that I would burst out laughing.  I would amuse myself to the point that the disaster no longer seemed so disastrous.  (As Joseph Garlington says, “If it’s going to be funny later, it’s funny now.”) The children would begin laughing as well.  My husband would chuckle at me and shake his head, wondering what had gotten in to me.

I continued this, “Oh nards!” business for months before I thought, “Perhaps there is some significance to this word that God would want to speak to me about.”

I looked up “nards” on Google and found that it is short for spikenard, a plant used for medicinal purposes.  It is antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory.

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It is also the star of that beautiful Bible story in John 12 when Mary pours the pure nard on the feet of Jesus and the entire house was filled the fragrance of the perfume. The story (or perhaps a very similar but separate story) is also told in Matt 26.

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table.  But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste?  For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me.  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

It was clear that Mary loved Jesus deeply and wanted to demonstrate her gratitude and worship.  Perhaps she had planned this act, weighing what it would cost her to do so and judging that the cost was worth it.  Or perhaps she was so overcome with emotion that she impulsively grabbed her most precious possession and poured it out.  Either way, she deeply touched Jesus and ministered to Him just days before His crucifixion.  She had made a choice to lavish her love on Him despite what it cost her.

When the unexpected happens in my life and I shout out, “OH NARDS!” it is not quite the same as Mary.  When the child drops dinner on the floor or the teenager leaves the bathroom a mess or UPS has Chris work his 3rd 14 hour day, this is not my choice.  These circumstances have been forced upon me, and I have the right to be angry!

Don’t I?

What if I would make the choice to accept the circumstances with joy and worship God anyway?  Then perhaps my, “OH NARDS!” could be turned into the alabaster jar of Mary, ministering to Jesus with my love.

I read one article on the internet that spoke about the extravagant amount of nard that was poured out, probably 11 oz.  Anyone who uses essential oils knows how strong they are.  A few drops is all you need.  The fragrance of 11 oz. would have been enough to be noticed for quite a distance around the house.  If Jesus was to wash in a pool right afterwards, a thousand people could wash after him and leave with the expensive aroma.

Imagine all of that nard being absorbed into Jesus’ skin.  He must have smelled like spikenard for days!  Jesus did say that Mary was preparing him for his burial.  I always thought he was just speaking about the symbolic of the use of herbs in burial customs.  Days later when he was betrayed, arrested, abandoned, beaten, put on trial, ridiculed, whipped, and crucified…

I bet Jesus still carried the aroma of spikenard!  In His darkness hours, He smelled like perfume.  All who came in contact with this simple, poor man from Nazareth would catch a whiff of this very expensive oil.  As the people watched Him take the accusations without fear or anger, they could smell Him.  As they watched Him patiently endure suffering, they noticed the unusual aroma.  It was the fragrance of a King, not a common man.  It was a heavenly smell in the midst of tragic circumstances.

This smell of pure nard would forever be imprinted on their brains as the smell of the most unusual trial and execution they had ever seen.  For the rest of their lives, whenever they would catch a whiff of it, they would remember.  Maybe God could even bring them to the place of faith, recognizing the King and Savior Jesus in the form of a beaten and bloodied criminal.

When I encounter trials that make me want to cry out in disgust, “Why all this waste?!!”  perhaps I should worship instead.

When my husband is suffering with an excruciating headache for a week, unable to work or participate in much of normal life, my mind starts to say;

“Why couldn’t this have been a vacation from work to enjoy camping as a family?  We won’t get to take that vacation now.  Our budget only works if Chris is working.  How long will it be before he can start working again…days, weeks, months?  We are not even sure what is causing the pain or how to get rid of it.  I hate to see him suffering! What a waste!”

I have come to know God better than that.  Nothing is wasted in His kingdom.  He can use any circumstance for our good and for our promotion.  I can trust Him and worship Him in this.

For all of us, this pure nard should remind us that in the midst of suffering, we can love and worship.  And when we worship we release the distinctive aroma of our King…and the atmosphere of heaven.

OH NARDS!

A Really Bad Hair Day

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“Why did I even start this?  Why? Why? Why?”

I was reprimanding my reflection in the mirror.  One third of my hair was curled and the rest was straight.  I looked at the curling iron in dismay.  I never did know how to use that thing!  That is why I rarely attempt to curl my hair.  Why did I think I should do it today, when I was already running late for the Women’s Encounter at church, the one time during the year that I can leave my busy household behind and seek God with hundreds of kindred spirits?

I had gotten my hair cut a few days ago…six inches of dry, damaged ends gone!  I felt like a new woman!  The hair dresser curled my hair and said, “This is the way they are styling it these days.”  I looked at myself in the mirror and thought the curls looked a little haphazard and choppy.

“I’ll go home and fix it the way I like it, and it will be fine,” I thought to myself.

But when I arrived home I got quite a reaction from my children.

“I like it!” my teenage daughter said, and she made me think that I certainly must look trendy!

“You look pretty, mommy,” my boys said, and they almost never comment on my appearance!

My husband also gave my compliments that night, so I felt that the curls must really be something special.

Before the Women’s Encounter I had washed my hair and dried it with a circular brush as usual.  It looked really nice that way, straight and shiny.  But was it as cute as the curls that had earned so much praise from my family?  Probably not!

So I began to try and recreate what the hairdresser had done.

Bad idea!

                I was doing a horrible job on my hair!  I was supposed to be at the church early to greet the women coming in the doors, and here I was, still at home with part of my hair in awful curls.  I had no time to wet it down and blow dry it out again.  I had to just finish the curling.

“Why, oh why did I start this mess?  My hair looked just fine before!”

I couldn’t stop, so I proceeded to curl and spray, curl and burn myself, curl and mutter and groan, curl and get mad at myself (and anyone else who entered the bathroom)…and curl some more.

Finally I had a head full of funky, crispy curls.  This was not “me” at all!  They looked weird, but I didn’t dare run my hand through them for fear of disrupting the delicate hold of the hairspray and make it worse.

I rushed to gather my things.  My family could tell I was grumpy and tried to encourage me, but I wasn’t having it!  I rushed into the van and drove the five minutes to church.  I didn’t get to participate in the preservice prayer that would have most certainly centered my thoughts on Jesus.  I should have been praying for all the women attending!  I should have been there early to greet some of them.  But I had been too vain and concerned about my appearance to listen to the voice of reason that said;

“Put the curling iron down!”

Because I arrived at the church so late, I couldn’t find a parking spot.  I had to park all the way in the overflow lot which was quite a hike from the church.  I slammed the van door and started trudging up the hill, mad at myself.  It was unseasonably cold that April night, but I had stubbornly worn my new flip-flops because I wanted to feel “comfortable.”  Now I was freezing my little pink toenails off!

I got halfway up the hill when I realized that I had left my phone in the van!  I had to walk all the way down and all the way back up again, madder than before.

Finally I got into the sanctuary. Worship had been going on for a half an hour already.  The room was darkened and the colored lights around the stage were flashing with the music. It was packed full of women from front to back.  Where was I going to sit?  Thankfully someone had saved me a seat up front.  I set all my stuff down and turned my heart to the Lord.

“I am so sorry that I am so imperfect!” I said to God.  My faults flashed in my mind, and I was getting ready to repent of them one by one when…

Whoose

I felt Jesus rush in and give me a hug!  I couldn’t even begin to list what I had done wrong before He said to me, “I am so glad that you are here!  I love you!  All that you are worried about doesn’t matter.”

What an amazing feeling to be so loved by the Creator of the universe!  I tried my best to quiet my thoughts and just soak in His embrace.  The worship team was singing about supernatural love, over and over again.  This was a supernatural love!  I marveled at this love that could allow a perfectly holy God to come down and embrace imperfect humanity.

How was He able to draw so close to me?  Then my thoughts turned towards something the pastor had said the Sunday before.  He was referring to a burial shroud traditionally thought to be the actual one that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body when He was laid in the tomb.  It showed that He had been covered with blood from head to toe; that precious blood that allowed God to come and dwell with and around and INSIDE of us!  If we believe in that blood and accept it, He no longer has to withhold Himself!

The blood of Jesus that had covered Him from head to foot now covers me from head to foot!  He has made me holy!  There is nothing I can do that His blood can’t cover if I will let it.

In the midst of a grumpy, “bad hair” day…or in the midst of a no-good, awful “from the pit of hell” day…the moment we do one little thing right and turn our hearts to worship God…

God rushes in to embrace us and fill us to overflowing with His beautiful presence.

I still don’t understand this.

It is simply supernatural love!    

The Power of Praising Through Pain

Doris

I attended the memorial service for the mother of a dear friend of mine.  This friend is my age, and we have known each other since junior high school.   It was much too soon for her to have to say goodbye to her mom.  I was deeply touched by everyone who shared memories and thoughts and prayers.  I marveled at the joy and pain mingling together as we sang songs of worship.  Our pastor stood up to share. He began to talk about how we each encounter situations in life that don’t make sense, that seem too difficult to be God’s best for us.  We all ask God the question, “Why?”  He listed the many famous men of the Bible who asked why.  Then he made a statement that cut to the core of my being.

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“There was one ‘why’ that swallowed up all the other ‘whys’,” he said, and I instantly knew what he was talking about.

Jesus, hanging on the cross, became sin and cried out from the anguish of his soul, “My God, WHY have you forsaken me?”

Jesus knows how we feel as we navigate through this journey called being human.  We all suffer pain, heartbreak, sickness, and loss.  We all have our faith shaken and our knowledge stripped and our understanding emptied until all we can say is, “Why?”  Jesus was at the very same place Himself, and He put himself in that place on purpose so that we didn’t have to be there alone.  He is always right there with us, whispering, “I understand…and someday you will too.”

And love’s voice answers from a cross:

I bear it all with you;

I share with you in all your loss, I will make all things new.

None suffer in their sin alone,

I made – I bear – and I atone.” – Hannah Hurnard

 

God made us for Eden which means “delight” and “pleasure.”  We were made to live in perfect shalom; peace, nothing broken, nothing missing.  But our world was plunged into darkness and put under a curse because of sin.  The effects of that gloom always seem so wrong and unfair and foreign to us.  That is because they are.  We were created for something better, something perfect.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis

While we are here in the Shadowlands, we have a unique and very short-lived opportunity that we will never have again once we have crossed over into glorious eternity.  We have the privilege to have faith in something we can’t see.  Faith in a good and amazing God.  Faith that all things will be redeemed and restored.  We have the chance to touch our Father’s heart as we praise Him through our pain.

Rick Joyner received a vision from God in which this was shown to him in a marvelous way.

“I saw the Father.  Millions and millions were attending Him.  His glory was so great and the power of His presence so awesome that I felt the whole earth would not have even measured as a grain of sand before Him…His robe was composed of millions and millions of stars which were alive…I knew I could dwell before Him forever and never cease to marvel; there was no higher purpose in the universe than to worship Him…

“Then I was in a different place, beholding a worship service in a little church building…Everyone in the battered little room…were experiencing severe trials in their lives, but they were not even thinking of them here.  They were not praying about their needs.  They were all trying to compose songs of thanksgiving to the Lord.  They were happy and their joy was sincere.

“I saw heaven, and all of heaven was weeping.  I then saw the Father again and knew why heaven was weeping.  They were weeping because of the tears in the eyes of the Father.  This little group of seemingly beaten down, struggling people had moved God so deeply that He wept.  They were not tears of pain, but of joy…

“Jesus turned to me and said, “When you worship without seeing His glory, in the midst of your trials, this is worship in Spirit and truth…Do not waste your trials.  Worship the Father – not for what you will get, but to bring Him joy.  You will never be stronger than when you bring Him joy, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

One Sunday at church I was inspired by a testimony of a woman who had been miraculously healed of cancer.  I love it when God’s power is so visibly demonstrated here on the imperfect earth among broken humanity.  I clapped and cheered for this one soul who had received a death sentence and then had that terrible pronouncement revoked.

But I was deeply touched and moved and undone by something else.  A man who had recently lost his wife to cancer was raising his hands to praise God for the healing of another.  I felt my heart deepen and stretch to try to contain the grandeur of that one small act.  I thought I heard heaven weeping because this man had so touched the Father’s heart with his praise.  The greatest victories of the Christian life occur when we suffer crushing earthly loss and still praise God!  The “Whys” get swallowed up by such praise and we get catch a glimpse of the world we were really created for.

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I Love My Tribe

 

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The music washes over me.  It is not just melody and rhythm…it is the very atmosphere of heaven.  The lights are bright, the stage is full of musicians, and I am surrounded by my tribe.  Almost every Sunday morning I find myself here, in the sanctuary of Life Center and saturated with the swirling presence of God and humanity.  There are so many worship leaders that share the stage, so many musicians that rotate from week to week.  They are full of talent and resurrection life, and I love them all!  They have birthed an abundance of CDs out of the overflow of their lives of praise.

I watch the senior pastors in the front row, boppin’ to the rockin’ music.  They are in their sixties, but they enjoy the youthful expression and energy as much as anyone.  They actually lead the rest of us in radical, “out of the box” thinking! They have served this church for over twenty years, and I love them! I see one of the younger worship leaders, passionately singing a song that he wrote; and I think about how I used to babysit him when he was a boy.  I look over and see his parents in the front row, beloved pastors who raised me in the youth group; still loving, still serving, still standing for all that is true.

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Some folks are out of their seats, dancing.  Some are swaying to the music.  Others are sitting with their eyes closed.  Others are kneeling on the floor.  My teenage daughter is up front, worshipping with her friends.  I observe many gray heads in the crowd, faces lined with wisdom and love.  I see parents holding their little ones.  I see children twirling scarves and prancing on bare feet.  Life is always bursting forth at Life Center.  There are more pregnant women than I can keep track of, and I love them all! I long to be able to tell each one of them how gorgeous they are and how precious they are to God, carrying His little children of promise!

I notice women running to each other in joyful reunions, laughing and hugging.  I see people spontaneously begin to pray for the person next to them, passion and concern on their faces.  I see others exchanging gifts or notes.

It is time for the offering and one of the “newer” pastors takes the microphone.  He and his family have become so precious to me.  Every time I see him take the stage, I am alert with anticipation.  I know that some stunning revelation will spill from his lips that will rock the way I see the world.

The music subsides and there are announcements of births and deaths; family business that herald joy and tears all at the same time.  How we each know that thrill and that pain, and how we each long to share those with our brothers and sisters.  I walk to the back of the sanctuary during the meet and greet time, and I am enveloped in a warm and healing hug by a beautiful black mama.

“Look at you!   You’re beautiful!  Just beautiful!” she always says to me with her eyes shining and her amazing, white smile blazing.  She is the beauty! I wish I could describe the indescribable, how dark and lovely she is…but her beauty is so deep and so true, I am at a loss for words.

It is time for the message and another pastor comes up.  He and his wife are treasures to me, having led countless youth events, missions trips and prayer times that I was apart of.  We have even lived with them a couple of times.  Some folks in the crowd are a little confused because he talks too fast, as though he has 4 hours worth of revelation to impart in 45 minutes.  Chris and I are fluent in “speed talk” since we grew up under his tutelage, and we just chuckle to ourselves.  In his message, he talks about a mission trip that he led 20 years ago.  I was part of that trip, and how I cherish those memories!

After the service, I hug my dear and longtime friends.  I greet friends I grew up with and friends who were in my wedding.  I talk with my children’s pastor, who I went to school with.  I see more recent friends, who have quickly taken residence in my heart.  I identify new acquaintances as well.  I notice many fresh faces and hope to call them my friends someday too.  So many personalities, so many gifts, so many stories, so many ways that God reveals Himself to me; represented by these precious people.

“I love my tribe!” I always think to myself on a Sunday morning.  The love wells up within me, along with pride.  I love my tribe!  There are children of God all over this earth, in different denominations, different countries, varying cultures and traditions.  But I am so glad that my boundary lines have fallen here, at Life Center.  I started coming to this church in 1989, when it was meeting in the old casket factory.  My husband Chris started coming earlier than that, in 1985.  We left for a time and moved to Colorado Springs.  In the eight years we were there, we couldn’t put our roots down, no matter how hard we tried.  Now we are back in our promised land, surrounded by family.  How good it feels to watch our family tree grow tall and strong with a wide trunk and thick bark, an oak of righteousness, a planting for the display of His splendor.

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How glorious it feels to let our roots descend into the rich and fertile soil of Central Pennsylvania! How refreshing to drink the deep, deep waters.  How thirsty we had been for those waters!

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There are wonderful people of God all over the world, but this family is mine…my clan…my tribe.  I am so glad!  How I love my tribe!